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Habits of Highly Creative People:
The Idea Journal

Leonardo da Vinci. Marie Curie. 

Thomas Edison. Beatrix Potter.

What do all four of these people have in common?

Not only were they highly motivated and creative individuals, but they also all kept an idea journal.

An idea journal is quite different from a diary. You use an idea journal not to record all of the things that happened to you throughout the day, but to jot down daily goals, achievements, opinions, observations, or bits of inspiration. If you’re working on a project, you can fill the idea journal with updates on your progress, thoughts on how to improve the project, and anything else that motivates you.

A writer’s idea journal might be filled with ideas for stories or articles or blog posts (no need to fear writer’s block when you have an idea journal). An artist’s might contain sketches or inspirations for drawings. Ultimately, the idea journal exists as a private place to plant your ideas and watch them grow.

Here are four reasons why you should keep an idea journal.

1. An Idea Journal Helps You Remember & Develop Ideas

da vinci flying machine

Leo’s design for a flying machine.

Among Leonardo da Vinci’s many achievements, he was a brilliant artist, mathematician, engineer, scientist, and inventor.

In his notebooks, he filled pages and pages with sketches, scientific diagrams, ideas for new inventions, and reflections on art.

Because da Vinci was left-handed, he found it easier to write from right to left. That means his notes can only be read in a mirror. To make his writings even more private, he often employed a kind of shorthand and didn’t worry about perfect penmanship or proper punctuation.

What he did care about was carefully recording his lab notes and his many ideas for new inventions: everything from a flying machine to a submarine prototype.

Da Vinci’s notebooks ensured that he never forgot any of his ideas.

If you write down every great idea that comes into your head right away like da Vinci did, you will not have to worry about forgetting an idea ever again.

Further, the action of writing down an idea forces you to think more deeply about it.

The idea journal helps you clarify your thoughts and express them more clearly.

2. An Idea Journal Helps You Evaluate Lessons Learned

marie currie lab

Marie with her husband in the laboratory.

Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only person to win in multiple sciences. She kept detailed lab notebooks that described her discovery of two elements: radium and polonium. These notebooks gave her a permanent and immediate record of her experiments and discoveries.

Though you may not be a scientist, an idea journal acts as a lab notebook of sorts. While working on any kind of project, you can use your idea journal to record each step of your journey: the difficulties that set you back, the hurdles you overcome, the milestones you make, and your final achievements.

The idea journal helps you to avoid repeating mistakes in the future. You can flip through your idea journal to see all the steps you took towards accomplishing your goals.

3. An Idea Journal Motivates You

thomas edison journal

One page from Tom’s awe inspiring to-do list. Click the image to enlarge.

Thomas Edison is best remembered for inventing the incandescent light-bulb. The most prolific inventor in American history, he held 1,093 patents and also developed the phonograph, the motion-picture camera, and a universal stock ticker.

To the left is a photo of a page from one of Edison’s notebooks. He writes at the top of the page: things doing and to be done. His to-do list runs for several pages and includes an amazing number of ideas, including an electrical piano, “unflammable” insulating material, ink for the blind, and an apparatus to help the deaf.

An idea journal motivates you to fight procrastination, list your goals, and start working to accomplish them. It also reminds you to not abandon your dreams, but strive to achieve them. Further, the list can reveal to you a detailed picture of the things you are passionate about and show you what field of study you should pursue.

4. An Idea Journal Makes You A Better Observer

beatrix potter sketches

Sketches by Beatrix at age 9.

Beatrix Potter is most famous for her children’s stories of Peter Rabbit and her beautiful watercolor illustrations. What you may not know is that all of the plants and wildlife in Potter’s illustrations are depicted with scientific accuracy.

Potter was keenly interested in the natural sciences, especially botany. She developed a theory for the germination of fungi and was the first person in Britain and one of the first in the world to understand the symbiotic relationship between algae and fungi. Mycologists still use her painstakingly detailed drawings to identify fungi.

From the age of fifteen, Beatrix Potter kept a journal in a secret code she had invented. The code was not cracked until fifteen years after her death. Potter’s journals are filled with accounts of the long walks she took and her observations of the natural world. It was in this journal that she began to outline her scientific theories. She also recorded her opinions on society, fashion, art, and current events.

Potter practiced her observational skills by writing in her journal. Your idea journal will train you to be observant as well. Writing in an idea journal encourages you to be curious, ask questions about the world, think innovatively, and find creative solutions to the problems you encounter.

Ready to start your idea journal?

These are just a few guidelines to follow. Ultimately, there are no rules set in stone when it comes to your idea journal. It’s up to you to decide what to fill it with. Just remember that its purpose is to inspire you.

My idea journal is a small black Moleskine notebook, but it really doesn’t matter what brand of notebook you choose as long as it is durable and easy to carry around. I recommend that your idea journal be a physical book, not a computer application. It is too easy to be distracted by the Internet and Email. An idea journal is meant to spark creativity. Writing with a pen and paper will give you the feel of creating something and make your ideas that much more real.

Try and keep the journal always nearby so that you can write in it whenever inspiration strikes. You might want to keep a small notebook with you when you go out and a larger one at home (the larger book will be easier to write in for longer periods of time). If you’ve jotted any quick thoughts into the smaller notebook while you were out, you can transcribe them into your official idea book once you return home.

Unlike a diary, you don’t need to worry about holding to a schedule when writing in your idea journal. But you might find yourself more inspired during certain times of the day: first thing in the morning when you wake up or just before you go to bed at night or a quiet time in the afternoon.

What will your idea journal help you to create today?

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